Safety woes scuttle Syria-Turkey trade
ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily NewsEscalating concerns for the safety of its own citizens has prompted Ankara to temporarily and partially suspend customs gate transactions with Syria. It is not yet clear how long Ankara’s new regulation, which effectively cuts off a trade relationship once worth almost $3 billion with the embattled nation, will be in force.
When announcing Turkey’s decision, Customs and Trade Minister Hayati Yazıcı particularly underlined yesterday that these temporary measures should not be considered an embargo. Customs transactions have been halted with some exceptions, Yazıcı said, adding that border gates were not closed. Trade and travel customs services for Turkish citizens, as well as the entrance and exist of vehicles carrying Syrian registration plates for purposes of international trade were suspended, he said.
Entrances and exits from Turkey to respond to Syrian citizens’ basic needs will continue, Yazıcı said, in an apparent bid to emphasize that Turkey’s decisions are not meant to punish Syrian citizens for the Syrian regime’s failure.
Customs services for third-country vehicles for trade will also be halted, but entrance services for third-county citizens will continue, Yazıcı said, adding that restriction of the passage of third-country trade through Turkey is designed to avert unfavorable competition for Turkish traders.
Deteriorating security was behind the decision, Economy Minister Zafer Çağlayan said earlier in the day, adding that Turkey once exported food and construction materials to the entire Middle East, but the volume of traffic has dropped 87 percent since the Syrian conflict began in March 2011.
“We have serious concerns for the safety of Turkish trucks regarding their entry into and return from Syria,” Çağlayan said, adding that three border crossings were in rebel hands. Syrians seeking refuge or to resupply will still be allowed into Turkey.
Turkey still welcomes Syrian refugees
There are currently more than 43,000 Syrian refugees in Turkey. Ankara has assured the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that the border will remain open to refugee flows, UNHCR spokesperson Sybella Wilkes told Reuters. “The border is closed for all commercial traffic in both directions, that is what we heard from the Turkish government,” Wilkes said. About 300 Syrians had crossed into Turkey overnight, she added, some of them using informal crossing points. “The Turkish government is still actively welcoming refugees and offering them protection,” Wilkes said.